By Angie Palau
Just in time for Earth Day, Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church is now an active Tennessee Valley Authority Green Power Provider.
The 20-kilowatt installation on the ORUUC sanctuary roof was completed in mid-April by Green Earth Solar, and the solar array has begun to generate clean power for the electrical grid. ORUUC is the first church in Oak Ridge to have solar panels, and indeed is one of the first non-residential buildings in town to have made this investment.
The project was fully funded by private donations from church members and friends and a grant from the ORUUC Endowment Fund. The configuration of the panels allows for expansion of its generating capacity in the future, something that ORUUC anticipates doing.
In many ways, installation of these solar panels is the culmination of a dramatic story that began in 2012. To make way for the new Kroger development at the corner of Oak Ridge Turnpike and Illinois Avenue, the ORUUC congregation decided to sell and vacate the property where the church had stood since 1956. The congregation purchased a parcel of land farther east on the turnpike, adjacent to the U.S. Department of Energy federal complex, and contracted with Johnson Architecture and Hickory Construction to design and build a new, dramatic, and environmentally conscious church campus.
The new structure has been designed to meet the spirit of the federal Energy Star guidelines and includes a number of best-practice features inside and outside to optimize energy-efficiency and environmental sensitivity.
Inside the facility, a number of best-practice green construction techniques were used:
- high-quality insulation in all walls and ceilings;
- energy-efficient, low-E glass windows;
- zonal heating and cooling;
- fluorescent and LED lighting throughout;
- motion sensors to automatically control lights in several areas; and
- Marmoleum flooring in classrooms, polished concrete in high traffic areas, and commercial-grade carpeting in administrative areas.
Outside, the bricks used on the façade of the church are a recycled product made from ash. Not only do they represent a beneficial reuse of something that might otherwise be waste, the production of this type of brick has a considerably lower carbon footprint than that of standard brick, requiring 85 percent less energy than traditional kiln firing.
The landscaping emphasizes native plants and perennials. In fact, the building was designed around the stately willow oak on the eastern edge of the property. Its preservation was a key requirement of the construction project. The tree is the anchor of the landscaping, which features numerous other plantings emphasizing hardy, low-maintenance perennials, and native plants, which will demand minimal irrigation once established. A swooping wildflower and native grass garden has also been planted adjacent to the church’s Turnpike driveway.
ORUUC is a lively, welcoming, diverse community practicing the progressive faith of Unitarian Universalism. Unitarian Universalism has roots in the Protestant tradition—dating back to the founding Puritans of this country, and before. But over the last century, it has evolved into a pluralist faith that welcomes people from all faith communities.
ORUUC services are held every Sunday at 10 a.m. More information is available at www.oruuc.org. Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church is at 809 Oak Ridge Turnpike.